Donegal leave Tyrone chasing shadows on brute of a night

Young Ciaran Thompson continues his brilliant league form in Ballybofey victory

Donegal’s Michael Murphy in action during the Allianz Football League Division One game against Tyrone at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho/Presseye

Donegal’s Michael Murphy in action during the Allianz Football League Division One game against Tyrone at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho/Presseye

 

Donegal 0-12 Tyrone 0-6

A big, big scalp for Donegal and , yes, it was a dark and stormy night in Ballybofey. This rivalry has become so helplessly close that it was strange to see Donegal close out a victory against Tyrone in such easy fashion, playing keep-ball while the Red Hand players chased shadows in the heavy, heavy rain. Even without Patrick McBrearty, Donegal’s strike force looked potent here and they moved with wonderful lightness on a very heavy evening.

A crowd of 8,570 forsook the rugby and their good health to turn out for a night that was part football match, part meteorological report. The rain varied from heavy to blinding and the wind couldn’t make up its mind whether it was coming or going. Donegal kicked with it in the first half and made the most of that advantage, firing eight high-quality points from play.

Ciaran Thompson, the young Glenties midfielder who has made a storming start to the season, landed three beautiful scores in the face of the compressed Tyrone defence. Twice he turned inside to clip true left-footed shots and then he finished an impressive half by Donegal by finishing a sustained period of keep-ball with a brilliant finish off the outside of his boot. That score alone took the damp out of a terrible night.

Tyrone decided they would just hold what they didn’t have in that first half and then go about rescuing the game after the hot toddies at the break. As usual, Justin McMahon did his presidential bodyguard act on Michael Murphy, following the big Glenswilly man from start to finish.

Whatever position Murphy plays nowadays will not be found in Joe Lennon’s book on Gaelic football. Yes he played midfield but he hung back and directed play from outside his 50 and decided against engaging McMahon in the kind of MMA engagement which has characterised their summer meetings.

Donegal sent very little ball into the full-forward line but didn’t need to, such was the intelligence of the running and passing game of Ryan McHugh, Frank McGlynn and Marty O’Reilly. A monster free from Murphy in the 24th minute sparked a Donegal scoring spree over the closing 10 minutes which probably changed Mickey Harte’s half-time team talk. Tyrone’s attacks in that first 35 were rare beasts and they did well to come away with 0-4, with scores from Peter Harte and Rory Brennan sharp reminders of the potential within the team.

Shortly after time, Justin McMahon grew weary of Murphy’s refusal to rumble and wrestled his man to the ground, provoking a general skirmish which resulted in two Tyrone yellows – for Tiernan McCann (second man in) and McMahon himself. Harte called his centre back ashore after that to the vocal delight of the home crowd, for whom the Omagh man has become the pantomime villain of this showpiece.

Meanwhile, Donegal’s quality striking continued, with Cian Mulligan and Ryan McHugh firing confidently into the breeze for a 0-11 to 0-5 lead with 52 minutes gone. Tyrone seemed to run out of ideas after that, kicking a few desultory wides and unable to break down Donegal’s defence and unable to click into their slick passing game on a night which wasn’t fit for the dogs.

This was a big stride forward for Donegal against the Ulster champions: the league points were useful but as always between these two, the psychological value of any kind of upper hand is untold.

Safe to say they don’t like each other much and as the quality of the game disintegrated, there were several Friday-night-rows-outside-the-chippie scenarios all over the field. That suited Donegal fine. They kept their lead, played down the clock and made occasional raids on the Tyrone goal. The highlight of the second half was an absolutely lacerating run in front of the stand by Ryan McHugh to collect a ball and then attack at pace. Few athletes travel with the same lightness.

A slip by O’Reilly almost gifted Tyrone with a late goal as the game went into its injury time period of nine minutes. Everyone was pretty wet by now. But Tyrone couldn’t make that gift count and finished the half with just 0-2,with a late free from Seán Cavanagh to match his smart point from play just after the restart.

On a day when many records were on the line, Donegal remain unbeaten here in MacCumhaill Park since a hot summer’s day in 2010. Hard to believe the sun ever shined here on this night but the home team were radiant walking off the pitch nonetheless to the improbable sound of bagpipes.

DONEGAL: 1 MA McGinley; 2 P McGrath (0-1), 3 N McGee, 17 E Doherty; 5 EB Gallagher, 6 F McGlynn (0-1), 7 P Brennan; 14 M Murphy (0-1, free), 9 C Thompson (0-3); 10 M O’Reilly, 11 E McHugh (0-1), 12 R McHugh (0-2); 23 M Carroll, 8 H McFadden (0-2), 15 J Brennan.

Substitutes: 18 C Mulligan (0-1) for F McGlynn (half time, inj), 20 M McHugh for 2 P McGrath (57 mins), 26 M McElhinney for 8 H McFadden (65 mins), 19 M Langan for 7 P Brennan (65 mins), 32 B McCole for 15 Brennan (71 mins), 21 S McBrearty for 11 E McHugh (75 mins).

TYRONE: 1 M O’Neill; 2 P Hampsey, 3 R McNamee, 4 C McCarron; 5 T McCann, 6 J McMahon, 7 R Brennan (0-1); 8 C Cavanagh, 20 D McClure; 10 C Meyler, 11 K McGeary, 12 P Harte (0-2, one free); 17 M Bradley, 14 S Cavanagh (0-3, two frees), 15 M Donnelly.

Substitutes: 21 A McCrory for 6 J McMahon (46 mins), 25 R O’Neill for 7 R Brennan (55 mins), 24 J Monroe for 4 C McCarron (60 mins).

Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).

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